By Wade Coggeshall
AVON — For years, Avon Middle School South has raised money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The goal is to collect more money than the previous year. In 2012, the total was $1,300. Though they only got $6.17 the first day of this year's drive, after six days it was obvious to school guidance counselor Paul Quirke that they'd match last year's tally.
He thought of ideas that could push this year's fundraiser over the top. That's when Quirke approached Mike Dudek, a custodian at AMSS. Dudek's shaggy beard has endeared him among students. Quirke, jokingly at first, asked Dudek if he would shave his beard if the school raised $2,000 for the fundraiser. Dudek was hesitant but agreed, thinking they wouldn't reach that amount in less than a week.
Indeed, they needed a whopping $700 on the last day - the equivalent of about $1 from each student. Dudek wasn't sweating it come lunchtime. Then money started pouring in. One student contributed two $50 bills.
"That's when he started to get a little worried," Quirke said of Dudek.
The grand total at the end of that school day was $2,003. Dudek kept his end of the agreement. Two employees from Cass & Company Salon in Avon shaved his beard during a special convocation Wednesday morning in front of the entire student body.
Afterward, Dudek described his new appearance as "different."
"I don't think I've felt air on my chin in eight years," he said.
Dudek has an annual routine. Every Memorial Day he shaves his beard down to a goatee and shaves his head. He keeps them both that way until sometime in September.
"Then I start growing my hair and beard out until Memorial Day again," he said. "This year we went a little early."
He still had stubble after the ceremonial shaving. Cass & Company used electric clippers and Dudek didn't bring a razor to work.
"It'll be clean-shaven tomorrow," he promised.
Dudek insisted on keeping his mustache though.
"I probably haven't seen my upper lip since eighth grade," he said.
Ironically, that was when he was a student at this same school. And Quirke was his guidance counselor.
"I'm back in my old stomping grounds," said Dudek, who's worked at AMSS for about five years.
Quirke accentuated the convocation with a school-wide Harlem Shuffle. It's the latest dance craze in which someone wears a helmet or mask and gets the rest of the group going. Quirke donned a football helmet and struck some "Saturday Night Fever"-worthy moves as students flooded the gym floor and others danced in the bleachers. One pupil performed an impressive version of the Worm.
"Everyone else jumps in with whatever dance move they want to do," Quirke said. "I knew the kids would know what it was. Obviously they wanted to participate."
Dudek had no regrets on taking the challenge.
"It was for a good cause," he said. "We were kind of hurting a little bit (with fundraising). I figured if it gets kids to donate, why not. It'll grow back."
Well, there was one regret: "That it's not a little warmer."
Quirke says events like this are important in showing people, especially youths, what kind of positive impact they can make. For something that started with jars of pennies and ended this way is impressive.
"It gets the kids to realize there are people dealing with other stuff," Quirke said. "Just by bringing a few pennies or whatever helps make a difference. This is just a culminating celebration."